June 17, 2007

Review of "Legacy and Legend"

Not always drawn from life

Depictions of Native Americans often reflected what artists wanted to see, a Huntington display shows.Most of the exhibition is devoted to material from the 19th century, when interest in Native Americans had a resurgence precipitated by the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804, which sparked the westward expansion. Advancements in printing techniques, especially in lithography, made it possible for this round of images to be widely disseminated. And these depictions also helped feed a push by poets and writers for a national myth, says Hight. "They were looking for a long history rooted in the land, and Indians were part of that."

As westward expansion met resistance from the Indians whose lands and resources were being taken, darker imagery began to emerge. In a mid-19th century print, "Death Whoop," artist Seth Eastman depicts an Indian scalping a cowboy. Hight calls it an "inflammatory image," which was unfortunately reproduced on the title page of a series of books prepared for Congress. And, of course, there is a print of Custer's last stand, showing Custer brave and stalwart with his handful of men as Lakotas and Cheyennes close in on them—a scene now considered bogus. But such heroic moments were popular in saloons, and this poster-sized version, after a painting by Cassily Adams, was made in 1896 to advertise Budweiser beer.

Comment:  Now you know one of the sources for the inflammatory cover of last December's Dartmouth Review.

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